Stop the education catastrophe!

National strike action needed

Jane Nellist, Coventry National Union of Teachers (NUT) and newly elected member of the NUT national executive, personal capacity

A malaise is spreading throughout our schools. It’s hitting teachers young and old, male and female, primary and secondary. Education is heading for catastrophe for pupils, parents, teachers – society as a whole – unless we stand up and fight for it.

It’s not that teachers want an easy life – we just want a life! We have always worked hard; what we demand is our professionalism back and to be trusted.

Parents understand this. Many of them are suffering the impact of Con-Dem job cuts and pay freezes. A new poll shows that there is little support for Tory Education Minister Michael Gove’s meddling with education.

In the face of his maniacal drive to turn schools into academies and free schools, 57% say that councils have an important educational role, and “should keep responsibilities in relation to schools”. A big majority is opposed to his policy of allowing non-qualified people to teach in academies.

Many teachers are just walking away from the job they have. Teachers are being driven to work-induced ill health in pressure cooker schools. Even our pupils are commenting on how tired we look! And they themselves are exhausted by the stressful testing regime.

Many young teachers are no longer able to rely on an annual automatic increase. One young teacher I know in Coventry has worked out that their real hourly pay is below the national minimum wage!

Older teachers look to retire earlier with a reduced pension – not something that will be available in the future with pension ages rising. 68 is definitely too late!

Fighting back

At the Birmingham NUT strike rally last month, 1,000 teachers took to the streets in defiant mood. Elizabeth Selimi, a primary teacher in Coventry, told the crowd to massive applause: “I am striking because I don’t have a life outside of work – I want it back.”

Teachers will be looking to the trade union conferences over Easter for a lead. School-based action can be successful if teachers stick together, but the real answer lies in an escalation of national strike action.

And more and more teachers are realising that the Labour Party is no ‘White Knight’ riding to the rescue. It isn’t just one ‘demonic’ character in the form of Gove that is to blame, as much as we try to focus our anger against him.

Tristram Hunt, shadow education minister, crossed lecturers’ union UCU picket lines and supports most of the government policies, including performance related pay. Both the Con-Dems and Labour threaten a comprehensive education that is publicly funded, accountable and democratic. They and their system need to be challenged. Over 500 no-cuts candidates standing for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in the 22 May local elections are with the majority in opposing all privatisation.

As a newly elected member of the NUT’s national executive I’ll be demanding that the NUT has a clear strategy for escalating strike action and policies that provide a proper work life balance. That was the programme that I was elected on and one which will achieve a real difference for teachers and education.